Acrobat faces 14 years for HIV infection

A circus acrobat still faces up to 14 years behind bars for infecting his girlfriend with HIV, despite a High Court decision to quash his original sentence.

Godfrey Zaburoni, 37, will be re-sentenced in the Queensland District Court in the coming months on one count of unlawfully causing grievous bodily harm.

It follows a high court judgment handed down on Wednesday that upheld his appeal and found he did not intentionally infect his former partner with the virus.

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The judges found that although Zaburoni lied about his diagnosis and had unprotected sex with her on multiple occasions, there was “no evidence to support the inference” he intentionally transmitted the disease.

The judgment referred to evidence given at the 2013 trial that claimed there was a 14 per cent chance Zaburoni would give his partner the disease during the course of their 21-month relationship.

“There was no evidence that (Zaburoni) was aware of the statistical likelihood of the transmission of HIV,” it read.

Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Zaburoni had “clear intent” to transmit the disease.

“The court found his actions were clearly reckless and uncaring, but that there was no evidence that he knew there was a probability by having unprotected sex that the disease would be passed,” he said.

The judges determined it was a reasonable possibility Zaburoni had sex with his girlfriend “selfishly for his own gratification” rather than with the sole intent to cause her harm.

The Zimbabwean was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years after having unprotected sex with her on multiple occasions in 2007 and 2008.

HIV advocacy groups welcomed the High Court decision, with some claiming people who did not intentionally transmit infectious diseases should be dealt with under public health law rather than the criminal system.

The HIV/AIDS Centre solicitor Alexandra Stratigos said it would allow medical professionals to work with the infected person to help them “modify their behaviour and ensure it doesn’t continue to occur”.

“Criminal laws tend to stigmatise people living with HIV which can lead to people further not disclosing to others out of fear of the outcome,” she said.

Ms Stratigos conceded in situations where the person intentionally infected another, prison could be an appropriate punishment.

“The high court ruling has clarified what constitutes intent in not only relation to transmission of a serious disease such as HIV, but generally,” she said.

Mr Potts said people like Zaburoni should be punished by imprisonment.

Zaburoni pleaded guilty to the grievous bodily harm charge in April 2013, but the prosecution rejected it and the matter went to trial.

He will now be sentenced on that charge, which carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.


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